WHO IS WOODSIDE UMC
Woodside United Methodist Church is located in the small town of Woodside, North Murderkill Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. The town is approximately 9 miles south of Dover on county Road 30 and is approximately 1 mile west of U.S. Route 13. The surrounding landscape is principally farmland located along a railroad. The 1889 Gothic Revival church stands prominently on Main Street in the linear village established in 1864 as a train depot and shipping point for agricultural produce, in particular, peaches. The frame church is roughly rectangular in plan, 50’4” long by 30’6” wide, and has a gablefront orientation. The gabled roof is steeply pitched with a cross gable on each side. The walls beneath the gables extend out creating a slight but definite cruciform plan. On the north gable end is an octagonal apse. On the southeast corner is a square bell tower. A gabled entranceway or narthex leads through the tower into the vestibule. The bell tower is capped with a steepled, square belfry pierced on each side by a lancet arched opening with trefoil and plate tracery. The steeple is four sided and has a gold cross finial [silver now]. The roof has asphalt shingles, and is trimmed with enclosed rafter feet, shingle molding and a wide frieze board. The exterior of the church is clad in novelty board or German siding except for the upper quarter of the front elevation and the corresponding section of the bell tower which are clad with octagonal butt wood shingles. The foundation is brick laid in stretcher bond.
All windows in the church are lancer-arched. The larger ones on the cross gables and the south elevation have intersecting tracery. The windows are glazed with a star-burst patterned opaque glass. There are three notable exceptions: the two lancet-arched windows in the apse, and the rose window with quatrefoil tracery above the apse in the north wall. These windows have stained glass depicting traditional Christian symbols. The rose window has a descending dove; the other two have a loaf of bread and a wine goblet, and a proffered hand with water respectively. The stained glass was added in 1986. Other decorative features include pseudo-buttresses with canted tops at the corners of the building and around the gabled entrance, and sawed balusters of the gallery balustrade and tower stair visible through their respective windows.
The interior plan of the church is functionally divided into five sections: vestibule, gallery, area beneath the gallery, sanctuary, and chancel. The vestibule, or foyer, is entered through double doors in the gabled narthex. This area contains a winder stair with extant sawed balusters which leads to the gallery and belfry. The stair was enclosed c. 1945. Beneath the stair is a closet with a four panel door. Another door in the west partition wall leads into the area beneath [the] gallery. This area is used for Sunday School and for overflow seating. The Sunday School area can be sealed off from the sanctuary by accordion doors.
The sanctuary is entered through double doors at the north end of the vestibule. The doors have four lights over two raised panels and are hung on strong spring hinges which allow the doors to swing open in either direction.
Seating consists of unsecured wood pews original to the church. The pew ends have bulls-eye terminals at the top of the back, and at the end of the arm rest. The pews are arranged in two rows allowing for two side aisles and a center aisle. The sanctuary walls have a beaded, tongue and groove wainscoting with a molded cap and baseboard. The ceiling has canted sides. The chancel is modest and is differentiated from the sanctuary through the use of slightly raised platforms for the choir and the organ. The electric organ and platform were added c. 1967 [and removed c. 2008], and the choir platform was probably added in 1945 when the church was renovated.
The communion table and the pulpit are further distinguished through separation by the altar rail. The pulpit platform is raised three steps and is partially contained within the hexagon of the apse. The windows which flank the pulpit and the rose window are described above. The chancel chairs are notable for their trefoil finials, sunrise motif headboard, and turned legs. The pulpit features quatrefoil element on the front. The pews, chairs, pulpit, communion table, altar rail appear to be of local manufacture, and add considerably to the integrity of the interior. The alter rail consists of a chamfered 2” by 6” rail supported by irregularly turned balusters on a plain base.
A door west of the pulpit was cut through in 1967 when the education building was added.
The gallery has three stepped levels and is finished with a trefoilated panel parapet. There is a balustrade across the back of the gallery to shield the large window. The sawn, decorative balusters are visible from the exterior as described above. The original oil lamps hang from the ceiling near the chancel. These were recently recovered and restored [1960s] by Mr. Oakie Remus. The lamps were electrified and now serve as functional lights. Two small, globed oil lamps on cast iron hangs flank the apse.
Changes to the church have been minimal and many have been reversed. In 1945, the church was reopened after being closed for several years. At this time the roof was replaced. On the interior, the stair was enclosed, the gallery was sealed off and the ceiling was redone with “celotex” (Childers[i]). The gallery was reopened c. 1976 and the rose window was uncovered in 1986, at which time it was restored and reglazed with stained glass along with the two windows below it.
Two relatively substantial additions have been built onto the church, but have been designed so that the visual impact has been minimized and the architectural integrity remains unblemished. Largely to the rear is the Reynold’s Education Building built in 1966-7. When the stained glass was put into the apse windows, 1/2-round covers were made for the former exterior (now enclosed within the 1967 addition) and lights installed to illuminate the tracery design.
The second addition [Fellowship Hall] was built in 1986, and is situated to the east of the first addition and well behind the church proper.
Woodside United Methodist Church is significant as a well-preserved example of nineteenth-century church architecture and as an element of local history that documents the growth of religious and social movements in the late nineteenth century. This small Gothic Revival church was constructed in 1889 by the Woodside community who contracted the work to Townsend and Bro., also of Woodside. Springing from the foundation of an independent American Union Sunday School, the church has been associated from its inception with the Methodist denomination. Woodside United Methodist Church is being nominated to the national register on the basis of Criterion C for its architectural importance.
Woodside United Methodist Church was built in 1889 because of the growing population pressure and shift in population distribution caused by the opening of the Delaware Railroad in 1856. The triggering factor was the establishment and rapid growth of an independent Sunday School held in the local school building [now the town hall].
Woodside[ii] was established in 1864 as a railroad depot after the completion of the Delaware Railroad in 1856. This was one of the smaller towns to develop after the introduction of this transportation system. Scharf[iii] relates that it was by the “exertions” of a wealthy farmer named Henry Cowgill that the depot and station-house were established. It comes as no surprise that, first Henry’s son, Ezekiel Cowgill, and then Henry himself, were appointed as railroad and express agents during the first years of Woodside’s existence.
Woodside grew from 2 buildings in 1864 to 25 dwellings and nearly 100 people in population in 1888. Scharf relates that at that time there were “three stores, two evaporators, two canneries, one dealer in coal, lime and grain, and one dealer in fertilizers.” These enterprises dealt with the agricultural industry, and the canneries and evaporators with the fruit industry, in particular, peaches. In the latter 1880’s, the center of the peach belt was in Wyoming, a scarce few miles north of Woodside.
The precursor to Woodside M.E. Church was a “Union” Sunday School[iv], which was held in the upper room of the school building built in 1886. The Sunday School movement began in the late 18th century when it was realized that children were individuals of different levels of maturity and not just smaller versions of adults. Evangelical Protestants also realized that society could be influenced through the education and evangelization of children. There were several organizations involved in the movement and one of the most influential was the American Sunday School Union founded in 1824. This was a Protestant evangelical organization which began as local groups of Sunday School[v] teachers banded together to supply text books and curricular materials. The aim of the organization was to become a national institution embedded in the fabric American life. These “vehicles of cultural influence” were meant to instill the virtues of hard work, sobriety, and self-discipline within children as a cure for society’s ills. One of the main goals was to teach reading so children could read the Bible for themselves.
The Sunday School in Woodside soon outgrew its quarters under the leadership of Mr. R.K. Caulk, superintendent, and Rev. E.S.J. McAllister, a Methodist minister. In 1888, the Methodist Quarterly conference decided to build a new church at Woodside. The circuit in this area included Canterbury and Viola. Previous to the establishment of the Canterbury church, the local “preaching-house” was Green’s chapel built in 1781 about one mile south of Woodside. By the late 19th century, many of these small communities were able to build their own churches, although they often had to share a minister. The ties between the Union Sunday School and the Methodist church are not known, but the organization was known to have had good relations with the mainline protestant denominations.
An extant collection of books archived in the church illustrate the concerns of the Sunday School movement and the late 19th century M.E. church. The books, some 60 in number, range in date from 1886 to 1893, with the majority being morality-tale novels. The stated purpose of Evangelical Protestant groups was to use religious education to teach the virtues of hard work, sobriety, and self-discipline. These books illustrate one of the methods to inculcate these characteristics. For temperance, there is The Noresborough Victory (a Prize Temperance Tale) published by The United Kingdom Band of Hope Union out of London, and Old Benches with New Props published by the National Temperance Society and Publication House in New York. The Fall of Staincliffes by Alfred Colbeck was a “Prize Tale of Gambling”, published by Fleming H. Revell Company, “publisher of Evangelical Literature” in 1890. In addition, there is a book published by the Philadelphia American Sunday School Union. Most of the books are covered with construction paper and stamped “Woodside M.E. Church.” Another interesting aspect of these books is that many of them are also stamped “M.E. Sunday School, Shelton, Conn.” It appears that the Connecticut church was a sister organization assisting a fledgling member in getting started.
The lot for the church was donated by Ezekiel Cowgill, and the lot for the parsonage across the street from the church was donated by W.S. Barger, a local merchant. A building committee was appointed consisting of R Kemp Caulk, E. Cowgill, T.P. Lindale, and F. Townsend. Fund raisers for the effort were identified as R.K. Caulk, Thomas Lindale, and Mrs. Mary Caulk. The contractor hired to build the church was B.W. Townsend and Bro. of Woodside, assisted by Walter S. Green, a future mayor of Camden. The cornerstone was laid at 2 p.m., Monday, December 9, 1889. Within the cornerstone, a metal box was placed containing the following items: an 1889 Bible, an 1878 Methodist hymnal, The Doctrines and Disciplines of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1884, a December 5, 1889 copy of “the Christian Advocate”, and a November 7, 1889 copy of “the State Sentinel”. The cost to build the church was approximately $2500. The first bell was purchased in 1896, and a successor was put in place in 1920.
The church thrived at first and was noted for its “fine S.S. entertainments.” Woodside shared ministers on several different “charges” or circuits. At one time it was placed with Canterbury, Viola and Willis chapel [four miles west of Felton] as the Canterbury Charge, and finally with Camden on the Camden charge. During this period, Woodside closed at least twice because of disagreements over worship service schedules. The church was active in the early 1930’s when a short informative history was written by Salida B. Killen[vi]. The hand written copy is still in the church’s possession and was valuable in compiling this history.
Sometime after the writing of Ms. Killen’s history, Woodside closed yet again until about 1945, when the church was reopened [as described previously]. At this time, the wood shingled roof was replaced with asphalt shingles, the ceiling of the sanctuary was [covered] with “celotex,” the choir platform was probably constructed, the gallery and stair was closed off and the textured glass may have been installed (as money was donated for windows). It was probably at this time the rose window was enclosed.
The church appears to have been constructed of fir lumber with braced-frame and balloon-frame technology. The bell tower is constructed with posts canted to achieve the battered effect. In other words, the posts were “leaned in” to create the gradually smaller tower, not unlike the Eiffel Tower. The roof was constructed with king-post scissor trusses made of 2” x 6” fir planks half-lapped and spiked with 4 nails at each joint. The girt and scissor legs were lathed and plastered to create the vaulted effect and a high ceiling. This was a common variation of roof and ceiling construction for public buildings in the late 19th century.
The local influence behind the plan of the church in not known. Little research has been done on prescriptive literature for church architecture. One of the few references to church plans comes from the Methodist Discipline. A quote form the 1884 edition (the same edition as [was] placed in the cornerstone) describes very generally what a Methodist church should look like:
Let all our churches be built plain and decent, and with free seats whenever practicable; but no more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable (paragraph 381[vii]).
Although no systematic study has been done on Delaware rural churches, these buildings are known for their simplicity of plan and finish as dictated both by taste and finance. The typical Delaware rural church is rectangular in plan with a gable front. Later examples of the late 19th and early 20th century often added a narthex, apse and bell tower. Methodist churches in Delaware are subject to frequent changes and additions because of their ongoing use. Thus, the survival of Woodside church, with its architectural integrity, original furnishings and library intact, is something which should be lauded and recognized.
This plan, like many other small Delaware churches, is an interesting hybrid of basilica and Gothic cathedral. The oblong plan, gallery and apse refers to the basilica type, while the tower, lancet windows and cruciform sanctuary nods at the gothic influence. Overall, however, the impression is of thriftiness, plainness and decency.
[i] Childers, Stephen L. “History of Woodside United Methodist Church.” Text of unpublished talk marking the 100th anniversary of Woodside United Methodist Church, 1989.
[ii] Beers, D.G. Atlas of Delaware. Philadelphia: Pomeroy and Beers, 1868.
[iii] Scharf, J. Thomas History of Delaware, 1609-1888. 1889. Reprint, Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1990.
[iv] Zebley, Frank R. The Churches of Delaware. Wilmington: N.p., 1947.
[v] Boylan, Anne M. Sunday School, the Formation of an American Institution 1790-1880. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988.
[vi] Killen, Salida B. “Woodside M.E. Church.” Unpublished Manuscript, c. 1930.
[vii] The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1884. New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1884.